Participation and the Facilitator

Submitted by Ben Smith | published 23rd Jul 2011 | last updated 23rd Jul 2011

The Role of the Facilitator

The role of the facilitator is extremely important. Even the best-planned approaches can fail if the facilitator fails to enable everyone to contribute. Who is the right person to facilitate the process? Who will take the ultimate responsibility for coordinating the process? Need to be very skilful in balancing out conflicting interests of different groups and identifying common ground. Facilitators role is 'to encourage everyone to participate, promote mutual understanding and cultivate shared responsibility' Kaner, 1998

Many consider that this role can only be played by a neutral player i.e. not a stakeholder although it might be possible to have a rotating facilitator from different stakeholder groups so that the responsibility is shared and no one group is being seen to be favoured. Facilitators must be acceptable to everyone involved, ideally non-stakeholders; if stakeholders of diverse composition; if stakeholders explicit about interests. The facilitator must be able to distinguish between facts and ideas, feelings and biases. Need to vary the style of leadership to fit the demands of the situation - requires flexibility.

Having a good facilitator is a vital part of the process of participation. The facilitator is 'one who listens intently, then asks the right person the right question at the right moment'. Listening intently is extremely difficult as it is difficult to prevent your own thoughts about the issue and what to ask next from crowding in. Most of the facilitators speech should be in the form of open questions. The facilitator's role is to separate out:

  • Facts from feelings (causes from effects, arguments from assertions)
  • Personalities from problems
  • Issues into their component parts
  • Underlying needs and grievances